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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

Poetry in the trees

The boy came home from his cross-country race talking not about his finish, but about the scenery.

He called the course “absolutely lovely” and described lush woods and mossy clearings, a logging road lined with towering pines, and running along the edge of an overgrown pasture with a view of an old chicken coop.

“That’s what I love about cross-country, Mom,” he says. “It’s just so beautiful.”

What I love about the boy, besides his descriptive use of language, is his ability to see and appreciate the world around him. It’s an ability we hear is being lost as kids grow up connected to computers and various “smart” devices. But as long as kids keep running through woods and fields, I think there’s hope they’ll stay connected to the natural world as well.

When I was a kid, I spent as much time in trees as I could. In one favorite tree, I nailed an old cigar box so I could keep notebooks and pencils there, and write from my treetop.

My kids climbed trees too, and sometimes got me to climb with them. My daughter would invent cheats to get her little brother up the trees she was big enough to climb — ropes, slanted boards — so that he could reach the lowest branches that were still too high for him.

Eventually he took over as primary tree dweller and appointed himself mayor of Gorilla Town, a portion of woods near the house that he proclaimed as his. The center of Gorilla Town is a huge, gnarly pine tree — Town Hall — that the boy rigged with pulleys to hoist baskets of supplies and snacks.

It reminded me a lot of my writing tree.

He spends a lot less time up trees nowadays, and a lot more time on computers. But I think if you grow up in a tree, that stays with you forever. Last week, he disappeared for an hour or so, and when we asked him where he’d been he said he was just “kicking around in Gorilla Town.” I don’t know if he was up in Town Hall or not.

My daughter lives in New York City now, but still finds trees to climb in Central Park. Sometimes she just needs a break from the pavement, and to date she has never been removed by park security.

Whenever she comes home, she grabs her brother and heads out into the woods behind the house to walk around. When she was little, those woods were named “Fairy Land,” and even on her most recent visit the two came home from their wanderings wearing garlands made of northern moss and wild flowers.

There’s magic in the woods and in the wilderness, and I’m happy my kids can still find it.

Last weekend, my son and I went hiking with a friend, on a long and pretty arduous ridge hike that took us over two mountains to get to a third. The trees were starting to change colors and we had views south to the Dix Range in the Adirondacks and east to the Champlain Valley and the Green Mountains in Vermont. When the ridge opened up, we also had views to the north, and watched as a mist overhead threw rainbow stripes on the trees below.

As we stood looking, the mist formed itself into a rainbow, a perfect arc, below us. I don’t think I’d ever stood above a rainbow before and my comments were about as flowery as my son’s descriptions of running through the woods.

All the studies tell us too many kids are growing up with no connection to nature, and that it’s harmful to their creativity and sensitivity — and to the future of our natural world. Because if they don’t love it, why would they protect it?

There’s no reason to separate. Whether we’re living in cities or the countryside, there are trees around us we can get to know — those that shade our parks, those that grow by the sidewalks, those that cover mountains. Go visit one.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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